“Would you agree that God, knowing the cost, would consider every angle in planning such an operation? He sent the right man for the mission, which was accomplished in the only possible way: Jesus’ death and resurrection.” Yet, “what was it about the vast Roman Empire that was so ideal for the coming of Christ?”
Why, after hundreds, even thousands of years, did God decide this was the right time for Jesus’ life on earth, not earlier or later?
What Was the Right Time?
This was a historically significant time because “the Mediterranean world — the cradle of civilization — was unified” for the first time.
The Romans extended Greek foundations of civilization by adding “the famous Roman roads [...] that would allow messengers to travel safely with news and ideas,” creating better ships, which would also help the apostles spread the gospel, and there was peace for over 200 years.
Greek was widely spoken, enabling Jesus to communicate with many individuals and groups. In this “relatively calm environment [...] the Jews were allowed to preserve their own faith and customs.”
Whereas in earlier and later periods, Jesus would have had a much harder time moving and speaking freely, such practical concerns had been overcome. There were still dangers and obstacles ahead, but this phase of Rome’s supremacy best served the Lord’s purposes.
What about Before Christ?
Rome started as a monarchy but became a republic, which grew in military might. They had taken “control of the entire Italian peninsula by 264 BC” before fighting “the Punic Wars with Carthage, a powerful city-state in northern Africa.”
By the end of that war, Rome was “in full control of Sicily, the western Mediterranean and much of Spain.” A Third Punic War (149–146 BC) enabled Rome to spread north of Greece into Macedonia. These were turbulent times around the Mediterranean.
Close to home, the “Roman-appointed king of Judaea” named Herod “was in great pain and in mental and physical disorder. [...] The slaying, shortly before his death, of the infants of Bethlehem was wholly consistent with the disarray into which he had fallen.”
Jesus’ family would flee to Egypt and the prophecy would be fulfilled: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1).
And After Christ?
The second half of the first century AD was tumultuous, in part because of the fighting between Jews and the followers of Christ.
Nero also persecuted the Christians, and the Romano-Jewish War of AD 66 led to the martyrdom of Paul and Peter “when anti-Jewish frenzy was at its height.” The “Jewish Revolt of AD 132” demonstrates the ongoing antisemitic feeling in Rome.
Yet religion was not the only problem for Palestine. A political shift brought short-term peace as Emperors no longer assumed their role as a matter of heredity.
Men of skill and mental stability expanded the Empire, but they overextended themselves with “constant warfare.” The Empire succumbed to financial strife and disunity in the fifth century.
The rise of Christianity caused upheaval in its own right, but if Christ had come during the unraveling of Rome’s supremacy, he and the apostles would have encountered major practical hurdles such as rejection of the Greek language as emerging cultures established their own languages, and intolerance of the Jews, which would have limited public teaching.
Jesus would not have attracted crowds who listened and watched as he rebuked the Pharisees, performed miracles, preached the Beatitudes, and taught parables.
God’s Perfect Timing
The entire Old Testament was leading to this window in time. “God revealed his heart for the nations over and over throughout the Scriptures” (Christ in the Feast of Pentecost, Bickner and Robinson).
We can trust that his timing is perfect in every personal, societal, and global matter. “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end — it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3).
Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Paul encouraged the church at Galatia: “let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Ecclesiastes 6:9).
But did the Old Testament provide clues as to when Christ would be born?
Intervals in Scripture
The Father brought Jesus into the world as Immanuel at a particular, predestined time preceded by other carefully divided events.
For example, “forty is associated with almost each new development in the history of God’s mighty acts, especially of salvation” such as “the Flood, redemption from Egypt,” and “Elijah and the prophetic era.” The flood rains fell for 40 days: Spies explored Canaan for 40 days.
Seventy also has a sacred meaning in the Bible and its “factors” are “two perfect numbers, seven (representing perfection) and ten (representing completeness and God’s law). As such, it symbolizes perfect spiritual order carried out with all power.
It can also represent a period of judgment.” For instance, “ancient Israel spent a total number of 70 years in captivity in Babylon” and Jerusalem “kept 70 years of Sabbaths while Judah was in Babylonian captivity.”
“Seventy sevens (490 years) were determined upon Jerusalem for it to complete its transgressions, to make an end for sins and for everlasting righteousness to enter into it” according to Daniel 9:24. With hindsight, the faithful can see landmarks demonstrating God’s mathematical attentiveness.
Yet, by these means the Lord has not permitted his people to discern a pattern revealing the date of Christ’s return: “Concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32).
Celestial Timing and the Birth of Jesus
“May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts!” (Psalm 72:10). “A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17).
Jesus’ birth coincided with a major celestial event set in motion when the Lord separated earth and sky, creating the cosmos. The timeline of these circuits led to some type of astronomical event during Christ’s infancy.
In 2020, Saturn and Jupiter lined up to create a huge, bright light for those who enjoyed clear skies. “A conjunction occurs when two or more celestial bodies appear to meet in the night sky.”
Such an event can produce what appears to be an especially large, particularly bright star visible “every night in a similar location for days or weeks.
If the wise men were to follow the moment of conjunction, it’s possible they would have been led in a specific direction.” That is, a conjunction of planets could have produced the Star of Bethlehem.
Even more unusual, “a triple conjunction event did actually occur over a span from September, 3 BC through May, 2 BC,” according to Jay Ryan in his article, “What Was the Star of Bethlehem.”
The Lord’s plan to bring Jesus to earth was catalyzed at the beginning of time with the orbit of every planet and the placement of everybody of light in the universe.
Heaven, Earth, and God’s Timing
Scripture frequently alludes to the stars in heaven as a way of describing how numerous the people of God would be, and not one word of Scripture appears at random.
He could have used grains of sand, blades of grass, or some other unquantifiable symbol to represent the vastness of his Kingdom.
A star came out of Jacob: Jesus. The image of a bright, beautiful light — a star — seems to foreshadow the coming Immanuel.
That same image simultaneously conveys eternity and mathematical precision; the placement and timing of Creation to the full extent of the universe, all of it under the Almighty’s control.
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.